Beyond the Boys’ Club is a monthly column from journalist and radio host Anne Erickson, focusing on women in rock and metal music, as they offer their perspectives on the music industry and discuss their personal experiences. This month’s piece features an interview with Amy Lee of Evanescence.
There’s no denying that Evanescence were a game changer. When Amy Lee and company came on the scene in the early 2000s, it was a time when mainstream and active rock radio had nothing but male artists on the charts. Evanescence found themselves an anomaly alongside bands such as Limp Bizkit, Creed, and others on the active-rock radio airwaves.
Fast-forward to today, and mainstream rock radio plays a bevy of female-fronted bands, from In This Moment to Halestorm to The Pretty Reckless.
It’s safe to say Evanescence played a large part in mainstream-rock radio opening its mind to playing a female voice on the airwaves, although Lee is humble about it.
“It’s hard to really take credit, because for me, there were a lot of women that came before me,” Lee tells Heavy Consequence. “There’s Shirley Manson — there were some powerful women in my sphere in the ‘90s and the alternative era that we’re killing it. Gwen Stefani, too.”
“It’s not like I was the first-first, but to go into that active-rock space and be able to break through like we did, I did see that it was special.”
Lee spoke with Heavy Consequence for the latest Beyond the Boys’ Club column, discussing the obstacles she faced early on in her career, the rise of women in hard rock and metal over the years, her recent experience touring with a full orchestra, new Evanescence music, and more. Read the full interview below.
On Evanescence being a breakout act for women on active-rock radio in the early 2000s
I love that it came across that way — like a victory for a female to break through, because it did feel like that, but it was a big struggle there in the end. I always thought that me being a frontwoman of our band and being in that sort of genre was a huge bonus, because it made us unique. All of the people that I loved and artists that I grew up loving were totally unique. They had a sound that nobody else had. I loved people that were doing something that when you heard them, you knew exactly who it was. That’s what I wanted. So, for me, anything about us that was special or unique, like having a woman’s voice on top of aggressive rock music, was a cool plus.
When it came time to record, I thought we were all on the same page, and we weren’t. When I came down to record and get a marketing plan and think about what’s going to happen on radio, all of a sudden, there was this big problem. That uniqueness that I’d always thought was so cool was seen as a problem by the people around us. The most giant and difficult give that I ever had to do in my career was letting that rap passage be in “Bring Me to Life.” The thing is, for me, personally, I think it made it sound kind of like somebody else. It was in a female Linkin Park kind of place, and that just wasn’t who we were meant to be.
On Evanescence’s label being so determined to have a male voice on “Bring Me to Life”
The reason they wanted us to do that was because they didn’t have faith at the end of the day that a female starting out with a piano all by herself would get played on rock radio. So, I felt really let down in the beginning, because I felt like I sold my soul. I felt like I had to give in and do this thing that I didn’t want to do and let a guy come and save the day so that at least there’s a man’s voice on there. I thought like that for a while, and I really hated it.
But, I’ve been very grateful, and I feel that we’ve been very blessed, because we weren’t seen as just that thing. We did get past that point, and we had another single that was a big on the radio, and none of our other songs were like that. My nightmare was that nobody would ever hear anything else from us again and that one song would be people’s understanding of our sound. So, it was an amazing thing to see our fans get it and respond around the world, and for us to be able to keep going, and for people to have the open hearts and ears to hear more and for us be able to still be doing this today.
It’s funny to talk about all that, because we literally just saw Paul McCoy, the guy that did the rap on that song, in New Orleans, and we have so much love for him, and he got up onstage and we did “Bring Me to Life” together. It brought back so many good memories. There’s so much good about it. But the fight had to be fought, and I did. It’s not that I gave in all the way, by the way. What they originally wanted was for us to hold auditions and have some guy come in and be a member of the band that was on eight out of the 11 songs on the album, and they wanted to change the whole thing, and we refused. I had to go back and live with my parents for a while until we finally settled on, “Okay, you just have to do it for this one song this way.”
On whether she has a sense of pride seeing female artists such as Lzzy Hale and Maria Brink succeed in hard rock and metal today
It makes me so proud anytime I see a woman in the rock world having success and getting the respect that she deserves, because there are so many talented musicians out there of all kinds. It’s really cool to see everybody want to open their hearts and hear something different and go another way, and I absolutely love that women are getting a lot of respect that’s long overdue right now.
On if she’s noticed a difference in the music industry and beyond since the #MeToo movement emerged
I’ve definitely seen a lot of support and encouragement for people speaking out about things they’ve been through that they’ve been afraid to say before, and I appreciate and respect and relate to that, so it does make me proud and happy. For me, it’s not only about women, because there are people of all races, gender — those who have struggled in silence a lot for being different. I’m hoping that we are entering a time where that is more and more not okay and that we are more encouraged to speak up and feel that the people around us can support us just for being who we are.
I don’t see the beauty in a world where everybody’s the same and everybody follows the rules. That’s not what rock is, for sure. So, the more that people can take a deep breath and be brave and honest and speak out about whatever it is — whether it’s some pain they’d had and some hurt that’s been done to them, or just pride in being who they are, although it’s maybe not what everyone would accept — I just think that’s right. We have to keep encouraging that and fighting against the opposite.
On Evanescence touring with a live orchestra last year
It was a really amazing, emotional thing to be playing the piano and then have that part where the strings come in on the record happen all around me live with beautiful, real musicians. It was like being in the middle of a movie score. I’ve dreamed of playing music like that since I was a little girl. My dream before being in a band was to be a composer. It’s funny, because then it turned into rock and metal and all the stuff of the alternative age, and our band came about, but our band has always been a combination between those things with this sort of classical, passionate heart. So, to take it to the other side of the extreme in a live setting healed something in my soul that was always craving it.
On the excitement of performing with different orchestra members each night on tour
It was really, really beautiful. It keeps you on your toes, because I think there were 36 people on the stage every night. And for the most part, it was a totally different crew of people every night. So, every day, the orchestra goes through rehearsal to learn what’s going on that night. We know what we’re doing, but so much of it really does rely on the orchestral part that depending on the people that are there that night and the players and their feel, it’s just a completely different show every night. There were very different emotions, feelings and nuances to hear, so I found it musically very fulfilling.
On how touring as a straight-ahead rock outfit this year is preparing Evanescence to write a new album
You remember how to talk to each other when you’re working together — just working in that live setting, standing around with our instruments and jamming out a little bit and getting excited. And it helps to think about the live show. When we wrote the third album, the self-titled one, it was the first time we really worked that way. We stood around and were in the rehearsal space, very raw and stripped down like a real rock band with no bells and whistles, just making sounds and feeding off of each other in the moment. That made us really think about what was going to be cool at the show. That made for, honestly, as a whole, our favorite album still to this day. Those are all the songs we want to play the most live. When we play a concert, we want to play, obviously, “Bring Me to Life” and the stuff that everybody knows the best. But, the third album was so well-suited to our live feeling that it’s hard to resist playing all of this song.
So, I’m excited to go into that mode again, but my original comfort zone in most writing is fairly solitary — just sitting in a room with ProTools and keyboards and a guitar player and us just kind of layering and thinking and taking our time going over and over the same part. So, there definitely will still be that, and that’s a place that I’m always going to go. But, I’m excited to start out from our raw, live-minded place where we are right now. I think feeding off the energy of these shows right now and going right into a short writing session to start off will be really cool. So, I don’t know what it’s going to sound like, but definitely coming off of doing that very epic and beautiful orchestral thing, we’re ready to at least begin the process from a very raw, more aggressive place.
On “Bring Me to Life” starting to be played on some classic rock radio stations
That’s weird! When I think classic rock, I always think of the same era — the ’70s, ’80s, even and ’60s. But, it’s funny, I guess as we get older, that time moves forward, doesn’t it? So, yeah — weird! (Laughs) I think of classic rock as a genre with Led Zeppelin and stuff. I get it. It’s a classic, cool, call it a classic. But classic rock, that means something else to me!
On what advice she would give young people looking to get into the business
I don’t think there’s some method or recipe for getting to a certain place. I think the one thing that will always remain true, that I stick to throughout time and that works for me, is to make honest music that I truly love and believe in and want to listen to and to try to tune everything else out. There are a lot of different opinions and advice, and it’s very distracting to the art. For me, personally, I’ve fought creative battles all along the way, and they’ve all been worth it, because I think that after all that stuff fades away and the trends change and everything else, you’re the one left having to sing your songs, and you have to have the passion for it to really do it and really for pour your heart into it. I think that that speaks to people more than anything else.
I see that with our fans. We have a lot of really incredible people that are lifers that have been dedicated followers since the beginning in 2000 or 2003, because it just feels like something that is from the heart. It is. I think for me, I, my best advice that I would give an artist is try to tune out the noise and really just do what feels good, because then you’ll do it better, anyway. Go out there and give it everything in your heart.
Our thanks to Amy Lee for taking the time to speak with us. Evanescence recently completed a spring tour, but will be back on the road this summer. See their current itinerary here.